Equity Connector: Introducing Angel Villalobos, Associate Project Director of the ACE Evaluation Network
Angel Villalobos is a problem solver. Talk with him for a while and it will quickly become clear that when a challenge presents itself, his evaluation background shines through: he is quick to cut to the core of the problem and suggest solutions. However, he makes sure to do so with kindness and with an interest in collaboration. Expanding the Bench® (ETB) is proud to announce that Angel has joined the team in the role of associate project director of the Advancing Culturally-responsive and Equitable (ACE) Evaluation Network. He spared a few moments to outline why he adapts a “connector” style of management, what drew him to ETB, and what excites him about his new role.
What drew you to ETB?
Equity work can be messy, challenging, and difficult. My time at the Colorado Health Foundation strengthened my resolve to work in a space that could collectively influence systems-level change. I wanted to be with colleagues who would challenge the way that I think about equity and how we approach equity-centered work — which I absolutely felt was happening at the Foundation, but with a different perspective and power structure than that which comes from evaluation.
I have lived and worked alongside marginalized communities who have traditionally had power used against them since I was young. I’m first-generation Latino, born in El Paso, Texas, a border town, and all of my life I’ve navigated challenges and fought for change in service of community. Part of that, I think, is generational trauma that’s rooted in survival. Through these experiences, I have sought to counteract the structural inequities and power imbalances that constrain some communities and fundamentally advantage others.
I think that it’s a bummer when folks say that people of color don’t have power. That’s not true. They have power, and it is constantly being taken away from us. So, to me, [ETB], and the work that we do, is an avenue that is so strongly ingrained into who I am, and it is really rooted in evaluation: asking questions, critically thinking through problems, understanding barriers and challenges, and finding creative and culturally responsive solutions.
Could you share more about your background?
I joined the Foundation to shift influence, power, and resources to Black, Latinx, Indigenous, and low-income communities in Colorado. I provided support in the areas of primary care and behavioral health, including early childhood social-emotional development, youth and young adult resiliency, and adult recovery through grantmaking, relationship management, and capacity building. I also connected grassroots and smaller nonprofits to funding to support work through an equity-centered lens.
Before that, I was at the University of Colorado where I successfully led statewide strategic efforts in the advancement and promotion of equitable research practices; survey and focus group development and facilitation; participant recruitment; and multi-generation intervention programming. My work covered the fields of food, behavioral health, early childhood, and environmental justice and continues to be cited for development in international community-centered participatory research.
I see myself as a connector in these spaces, bridging the concepts and ideas from those that work in philanthropy and academia, who are usually graduate-level thinkers with communities in a way that connects and celebrates the perspectives of all sides. I am an “interpreter” of sorts that translates how we collect, analyze, and use data for folks that haven’t had the opportunity to engage in meaningful and equity-centered evaluation and funding practices.
What is your role at ETB?
I will serve as the associate project director of the ACE Network. When I was interviewed, a lot of the questions were rooted in my leadership style and how I engage with a team. And so, I use that same word to describe that leadership style, which is a connector. I show up in a way that is really collaborative, and my approach is for folks to feel included so that they feel that the team pushes us forward in a way that is supportive of each other rather than micromanagement or a feeling of a lack of trust. When I think of a connector, it’s someone who is able to engage with a variety of folks on a variety of levels, who is transparent and honest and who encourages growth in a way that is beneficial to all parties — even if it is a struggle or a challenge at times.
I feel like ETB has created an awesome foundation of the Network and now they’re looking to grow into its next chapter. I see myself coming into this space to support this next chapter and expand the Network’s impact through innovative and creative community building, with a focus on demographic and evaluation background. At the same time, I hope to use my diverse experience to help facilitate conversations and relationship building with philanthropic and evaluation partners nationwide.
Read the full blog on the Change Matrix website here.